Facing huge deficit, N. Utah food bank ends rent-assistance program

Thursday , March 06, 2014 - 11:34 AM

OGDEN — The economic struggles of Top of Utah residents are translating into hard times for the Joyce Hansen Hall Food Bank.

At the end of March, the food bank disbanded a rent-assistance program that had served area residents for more than a decade.

“We’re running at a huge deficit right now,” said Northern Utah Catholic Community Services Director Marcie Valdez. “It was a difficult, difficult decision. Every day, 20 to 30 people come in looking for housing. … It does leave a huge gap in the community.”

But Valdez said food bank officials and supporters opted to cut back to the central mission of the food bank in order to find ways to better provide that service.

And continuing to feed the more than 2,300 families each month that now are turning to the food bank, Valdez said, will require workers there to do a better job of fundraising.

“The community is so generous in food donations,” she said, pointing especially to last month’s Boy Scout Food Drive that has the facility well-stocked at the moment.

“We do a good job of communicating when we need food, but not when we need financial help,” Valdez said. “We are all doing everything to make sure the food bank remains viable, but it will take everyone working together. … A lot of people can give a small donation. It really does add up.”

Valdez said Top of Utah residents often don’t realize how much the food bank relies on financial donations.

“They think because we are part of the Catholic Church, we are funded by the church,” she said, noting that the facility is a community organization, not a church-supported mission.

And she said the food bank also is not largely government-funded.

“We get less than $60,000 a year in government funding,” she said. “We are 90 percent reliant on financial donations from the community.”

And Valdez said people also are wrong in assuming that because the food bank is large, it is part of the Utah Food Bank, which she said it is not.

Jose Lazaro, the food bank’s development and marketing director, said the rent-assistance program was running at an annual deficit of $115,000 and the food bank was running a $175,000 annual deficit, which officials would need to make up mostly through fundraisers.

A Dream Builder’s Breakfast set for May 2 is one way organizers hope to bring in the needed funds.

Valdez said the fundraiser typically was done every other year, but officials have changed the event to take place yearly to help make up the difference.

She said news of a Murray food bank and a Salt Lake City Catholic Community Services food bank shutting down recently because of funding issues illustrates her concern for the future.

“It’s scary when you start to see food pantries shut down,” she said, noting that the needs of those who were served by those organizations don’t go away. “It’s just harder for nonprofits to meet the needs.”

And in the Top of Utah, more nonprofit food banks have popped up in the last few years to try to meet the growing needs.

Relatively new food banks are housed at the C.L.U.B.B. Jesus Church, Elim Lutheran Church and at the Genesis Project.

Citing the difficulty many face in getting to the Joyce Hansen Hall Food Bank across the 24th Street viaduct on the west side of town, some organizers of these newer food pantries have looked to their central locations as a help to those they serve.

But Valdez said she believes as more food pantries arise, resources are stretched.

“My fear is that we are competing for the same resources,” she said.

Valdez acknowledged the difficulty people have in transporting their food bank supplies onto a bus, which has a stop a block away from the facility.

But she said she believes the trip is worth the effort.

“The amount of food they are receiving from us is more than at other church pantries,” she said. “We provide a lot of variety and a great food basket, probably a week’s worth of groceries.”

An organizer at the Elim Church Fishes and Loaves pantry, which distributes once a month to 125 families, said it is the goal of organizers there to continue to expand.

“We want to grow,” said Tom Robertson, co-director of the food pantry. “We feel a need in downtown Ogden in particular. We are looking for people to donate, so we can build a facility. We would be open five days a week every week if we had the resources.”

Valdez said another concern she has is that people aren’t using the food stamps they qualify to receive.

She said if people would use food stamps, they wouldn’t have to rely on as much support from the food bank, and pressure on the facility would be relieved.

Valdez said showing people their resources is a big part of the services at the food bank.

“We’re not just giving people food,” she said. “We’re looking at their situation, what brought them to us. We really do help them. We’re not just putting a Band-Aid on the situation, but helping them move forward a little bit, too.”

Those who wish to make a financial contribution to the Joyce Hansen Hall Food Bank may do so online at ccsutah.org, by calling 801-394-5944 or by mail at 2504 F. Ave., Ogden, UT84401.

Reservations for theMay 2 Dream Builders Breakfast now are being taken. Individual seats are $25. Tables of 10 are $250.

Make a reservation by calling Andy Robinson at801-428-1231.

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